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RETAIL | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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Trading platform The Fifth Collection reinjects luxury into preloved fashion

It uses AI to authenticate vintage items.

The Fifth Collection is a luxury trading platform used by collectors to buy and sell various items. It was founded in 2015 by Nejla Matam-Finn and her husband Michael, who bootstrapped the startup for over two years.

The Fifth Collection prides itself for three key elements: high-tech authentication, knowledgeable curation and luxury service. Nejla Matam-Finn, CEO of The Fifth Collection, says they use artificial intelligence to analyse microscopic surface pictures to determine authenticity to an unparalleled degree of accuracy.

She further notes that every item on the site has been personally inspected, priced, photographed and written up in-house. “Our team makes a judgement on the relevance of each item before accepting it for listing - you come to The Fifth Collection for an opinion, a curated shopping experience with a personality and an editorial line,” she adds.

The Fifth Collection also strives to reinject luxury into vintage and preloved fashion. “This ranges from our bespoke ‘origami’ packaging, to our customer friendly delivery and return policies. But the ultimate service is the simplest of all – expertise with a personal touch. Try our chat next time you are on the site and don’t be surprised if one of the founders answers your questions,” says Matam-Finn.

Following the success of the startup, the husband and wife duo eventually sought external funding. “Our main investor wound up being Europe-based but actively funding companies in Southeast Asia. Aside from being a highly accomplished emerging market entrepreneur in his own right, he also had direct experience investing in our fast-growing niche of fashion technology in Europe. He remarked that our unit economics, in particular our average basket, was like no other business,” notes Matam-Finn.

In 2016, The Fifth Collection raised its first and only round of seed funding amounting to $2m.

Matam-Finn believes that when starting up a business, “the trick is not avoiding all mistakes, it’s making sure that they don’t kill you.” She shares that seven months into development, they had a poorly functioning prototype. Among many other things, pages would load so slowly that they would often time out. They did everything to compensate by adding more and more server capacity went on until, as a consultant later reckoned, they had enough server capacity to power Amazon on a slow day.

“We had to scrap everything and start over, recruiting an outstanding team of developers in the process. Since we were taking in stock and preparing other aspects of business during the day, we hired a team 12 time zones away to enable us to work round the clock - daytime we would focus on operations in the office and nighttime we would switch gears and focus on development. Believe it or not, we managed to rebuild seven months of work in six short sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled round-the-clock weeks that left us close to collapse. In the process, we learned a valuable lesson about balancing time and money for maximum effectiveness,” explains Matam-Finn.

“We go somewhat counter to popular startup culture: we believe in building strong foundations before scaling. Many people don’t realise that a leading cause for startup failure is scaling too early, or ‘scale to fail’ syndrome. For our part, we are looking at opportunities for growth in Southeast Asia and also some potential collaborations with larger groups. We look forward to sharing more soon,” says Matam-Finn. 

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